The autumn-calving season is well underway on winter-milking farms across the country.

Calves are arriving onto on these farms, and some of these will be in the future milking herd.

The first few months are important for the development of the calf and really set the calf up for life.


Calves are born with no immunity, so providing them with high-quality colostrum is important to ensure they obtain maternal antibodies.

Calves require antibodies from their mother’s colostrum. These antibodies help them fight off disease.

For example, if you have vaccinated your cows for scour, the only way these antibodies are passed to calves is through colostrum.

It is crucial that calves receive adequate colostrum within the first two hours of life. Farmers should follow the 1,2,3 rule when feeding newborn calves.

Using the 1,2,3 rule:

  1. Use the first milk (colostrum) from the cow;
  2. Feed the calf colostrum within the first two hours of birth;
  3. Calves must be offered at least 3L of good-quality colostrum.

Calves are generally fed their mother’s milk for the first three days of life, before they are transitioned onto milk replacer.


Once calves are over one-week-old, they should be offered concentrates in the form of pellets or coarse mix.

They should also have access to hay or straw; access to a long fibre will help the development of a calf’s rumen.

Access to clean ad-lib water should also be provided.

Generally, calves can be weaned once they are eating at least 1kg of concentrates/day.

After they have been weaned, calves should be offered 2kg of concentrates along with forage.


The pre-weaning stage of a calf’s life is extremely important. At this stage, cattle are the most efficient at converting feed to weight gain.

So, ensuring that calves are on a high level of nutrition is important so that the best performance from your calves can be obtained.

The aim during the pre-weaning period is to double the calves’ birth weight, but there should also be a focus on developing a healthy rumen.

This is why access to concentrates, forage and water is so important for young calves.